Australian marriage equality advocates have expressed disappointment following news Canada will argue the marriages of non-residents who have wed their same-sex partner in the country are not valid.

The argument has been put forward by the Canadian Department of Justice in response to a case before its courts in which a US woman and UK woman have filed for divorce after marrying in Canada in 2005.

Government lawyers have argued that if same-sex couples cannot be legally married in their home country, then their Canadian wedding is not valid.

Canada’s divorce laws currently don’t allow people who haven’t lived in Canada for at least 12 months to end their marriage.

Australian Marriage Equality (AME) spokesman Rodney Croome said the change would affect scores of Australian same-sex couples who’ve married in Canada since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2005.

“This decision has the potential to throw the lives of the hundreds of Australian couples who have married in Canada into turmoil,” Croome said.

“The Canadian Government decision not only disregards the solemn legal vows Australian couples have taken in Canada, but also leaves these couples uncertain of their status in the eyes of those Australian employers, insurers, federal departments and state governments that recognise overseas same-sex marriages.

“This wouldn’t be a problem if the Australian Parliament abided by the will of the people and allowed same-sex couples to marry here instead of forcing them to go overseas to marry.”

Peter Furness (an AME member), who married his partner Theo Phillip in Vancouver in 2006, said he now feels uncertain about his union.

“Our marriage was legal when it occurred and for that to be cast into doubt is shocking,”

“It is absurd that our marriage should be in doubt just because we happen to live in a country that is dragging its feet on the issue.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a press conference this week he was unaware of the case and would look into it, but did not want to re-open a debate on same-sex marriage.

Interim Canadian Opposition Leader Bob Rae accused the Government of attacking gay rights.

“The narrow interpretation of the law shows that the Harper government is trying to take away same-sex rights by stealth, and Canadians need to know that the advances we thought were secure are now under threat from the Harper neo-conservatives,” Rae told the Toronto Star.

The case will be heard in Toronto on February 27 and 28.

Since 2005, it’s thought over 5000 of 15,000 same-sex marriage performed in Canada have involved non-Canadian couples – mostly from the US, but also the UK and Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently started collecting data on same-sex marriages conducted overseas in census data.

Tasmania and Queensland recognise same-sex marriage conducted overseas as state civil unions.

The Labor Party recently voted to include support for marriage equality in its policy platform at its recent National Conference.